Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Zen Center of Las Vegas Retreat

view of the Zen Center as you enter the driveway

We had a joint Sangha Retreat with the members of Dae Myung Sa and the Five Mountain Order over the weekend. Dae Myung Sa is the name that Zen Master Seung Sahn gave the Zen Center of Las Vegas in 1994, just as he named our Huntington Beach Center, Hae An Sa at the same time. Before I enter into a discussion about our retreat I'd like to spend a bit of time talking about the history and connections of the two Sanghas.

The founder, Abbot and Guiding Teacher of Dae Myung Sa is Rev. Thom Kwanjok Pastor, JDPSN and Popsanim Thom is a man whom I consider my best friend. Thom and I are Dharma Brothers and both began practicing in the Kwan Um School of Zen in the late 1980's. 

Both Thom and I realized in about 1992 that we both wanted to open Zen Centers in our respective communities, so following the opening of the beautiful Meditation Room at the Aikido-Ai Dojo, Thom and I vowed to support each other in our endeavors.

Thom and I in Whittier, CA 1992

Thom and I diligently set out trying to find Buddhas, artwork, cushions, mats, and the rest of the things that you need to open a Zen Center. In 1992, for those that don't realize it, there was no such thing as buying anything on the internet. We worked together making artwork, and sewing cushions and mats and even making chugpis. Eventually, in August of 1993 the Huntington Beach Zen Center was opened by Zen Master Seung Sahn as a residential Center.  When Zen Master Seung Sahn installed me as the Abbot in 1993 he told everyone that the Huntington Beach Zen Center was better than any other ten year old Zen Center.

ZM Seung Sahn Dharma Talk at Opening of HB Zen Center
The original HB Zen Center

I saw the picture, which is on the right side of the Altar in the upstairs loft at the Zen Center of Las Vegas this weekend, it brought back many old memories, but I digress. Early in 1994 the Mojave Desert Zen Center opened in the front office of a Las Vegas Acupuncturist by the name of Dr. Lee. Dr. Lee was Zen Master Seung Sahn's Acupuncturist and treated him for his Diabetes when he was in Southern California. It is interesting how all of this is interconnected. Thom would show up early on Sunday Mornings and move all the furniture out of the front office and then unpack his motor home where he would carry all the supplies and cushions, etc for the 'floating zendo.' 

Paul and Thom at Dharma Zen Center early 1990's

Over the years the names of the Centers changed and the locations also moved many times. In So Cal the HB Zen Center moved from Huntington Beach to Stanton and then to Long Beach and eventually has moved back to Huntington Beach. The Mojave Desert Zen Center became the Great Bright Zen Center and is now known as the Zen Center of Las Vegas, and moved from Dr. Lee's office to a Karate Dojo, to a Private Residence, to an Industrial Center across from the Strip to it new home in two houses on Harmon near Tropicana. 

As ZCLV moves into the realm of a Residential Zen Center, Ocean Eyes Zen Center is now a floating zendo sharing a space the the local Church of Religious Science in Huntington Beach. The movement outward, sideways, upward and any way has always been grounded with a deep friendship between Thom and I.

The last incarnation of OEZC prior to my founding Five Mountain.

The Sangha in Las Vegas has been working on its new home for several months and Thom had told me that their first retreat would be at the end of August. Based upon the fact the he and I had been at each other's openings, more times than either of us would care to admit, we thought it might be fun to do a joint retreat with our groups. It turns out that this was right and we all enjoyed practicing together in such a beautiful and functional new space. 

For more pictures of the retreat.
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Thursday, August 26, 2010


I will be away for the next four days leading and sitting a retreat.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Remembering Two Great Icons

With the recent passing of Aitken Roshi and our loss of Zen Master Seung Sahn a few years ago, I came across this picture in my archives and thought I'd share it with everyone. You can click on the picture for a larger version, always great joy with these two.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

more ramblings on huàtóu

Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness t...Image via Wikipedia

In Chinese, if you wish to inquire from someone, “what is your problem,” or “what do you want.” you might say, “what is your huàtóu?” When a thought begins to take shape, this is the beginning of a sentence. However, what is the source and location of an budding thought? This is what is sometimes called the ‘great matter.’ To discover the source of any thought—this is a huàtóu. It is the beginning of a phrase, or a problem. To work on a huàtóu is the method of dwelling upon the origin and root source of the phrase. This “dwelling upon” includes the effort of study, deduction, understanding, observation, contemplation and quiet deliberation upon the huàtóu.
Ideally, a huàtóu leads the meditator back to the base of his or her consciousness and enables one to discover the real nature of this consciousness through a thorough examination of an idea. The key word here is “dwelling” (Jǔ, tí) 舉、提. One must dwell upon a Kōan, as Dàhuì had also done, with intense concentration and absorption to the exclusion of all other interests, pursuits and preoccupations. In this respect, a Kōan serves a function similar to that of a mantra, a mandala, or other devices used in what might be called “concentrative or absorptive meditation.” Here the practitioner actively focuses their entire attention on a single object, sound, or idea and reaches a new level of consciousness because of this concentration and restriction of their awareness. It is very different both in approach and technique from the type of meditation sometimes called “the negative way” of which the exercise in mindfulness of the Theravada tradition and the quiet-sitting of the Cáodòng ([Jap]: Soto) Chán are good examples. In this case, the practitioner relinquishes any active control but remains aware of everything in a state of passivity and receptivity. The practitioner relaxes concentration and expands the domain of attention.
This “dwelling upon” is not the same as “thinking about;” in fact, the dwelling upon of a Kōan is the exact opposite of our ordinary logical discursive thinking processes. For how is one seriously to think about Zhàozhōu’s “Wu,” as logically, the Kōan makes no “sense.” The entire exchange between the monk and Zhàozhōu, just as the other exchanges Dàhuì mentions, is unintelligible and cannot be thought about or understood rationally no matter how hard one tries. Actually, the very opaqueness to reason and the stubborn refusal to be “figured out’’ are intrinsic features of Kōans and constitute their effectiveness as meditative devices.
One useful way to understand Kōan introspection or huàtóu is to regard it as an opening wedge for the sudden and intuitive apprehension of the very suchness of life. Its effectiveness stems from its ability to create in the practitioner a sense of “great doubt” (dà yíqíng) 大疑情and the accompanying feelings of bewilderment, frustration, anxiety, and anger. If the practitioner takes a Kōan seriously, we can expect that they will be impelled to “solve” the Kōan with the strong sense of urgency that this painfully disquieting “great doubt” produces. In actual practice, probably very few monks could sustain their effort without constant prodding from their teachers. Consequently, Dàhuì was chastised because he did not “doubt [his huàtóu] enough.” Chán masters have often recognized the crucial role this sense of doubt plays in the workings of attaining ones true self. Approximately six hundred years after Dàhuì’s death, the Japanese Rinzai master Hakuin regarded “great doubt” as the indispensable driving force behind every opening experience. “Once the great doubt arises, out of a hundred who practice, one hundred will achieve breakthrough.”
However, how does a huàtóu generate doubt? A huàtóu can do so because it works as a sort of shock, or a surprise, which breaks the practitioner’s assumed expectancies. It is in this sense that a huàtóu can be considered an opening wedge. To begin with, in China the huàtóu was used in traditional novels and plays as the “opening statement.” The narrator in the story or play would deliver a short opening speech, sets up the proper dramatic situation and provides the occasion for the unfolding of the succeeding events. In the case of a Kōan, however, what follows is not a rational sequence of statements or events, as one would ordinarily expect, but by a totally unrelated and sometimes illogical statement, such as “mount Sumeru walks over the water.” The practitioner is thus made an alien and is separated from the familiar world of logic and becomes open to transformation.
Chán masters have realized that the true nature of things is Śūnyatā and out of compassion will help his or her students to attain the same realization. Human beings are creatures of habit; consequently, they are used to seeing the world, others and themselves in a predefined way. The student’s worldview is shaped by constructs (language, concepts, belief-structures, or what Buddhism calls “views”, trsti). He thinks this is the only right way to see the world and tenaciously clings to it. In this view, everything in the world is “real”: permanent, substantive, and, by and large, pleasant. Yet Buddhism believes otherwise. A Chán master sees the world as Śūnyatā, form arising out of interdependent origination, there is no difference between self and others, and nirvana and samsara then become empty names.
        Students do not give up their habitual views easily or willingly; because, their reality seems to be the natural one, and they are not ready to abandon their attachment to it. Engaging huàtóu practice can lead to an opening that enables the practitioner to return to their “true selves”. 
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Friday, August 20, 2010

Kānhuà Chán

Participants of the 1st International Conference on Ganhwa Seon discuss on various topics regarding the ancient Buddhist method with a room full of visitors at Dongguk University, Aug. 12. / Courtesy of Dongguk University

By Han Sang-hee

Korean Buddhism has made progress by leaps and bounds in promoting the religion to the general public through various culturally accessible projects including templestays and the annual lotus lantern festival. Yet when it comes to popularizing its methodology, it might as well have been limping along the away. 

Compared to methods based on Japanese Zen and Chinese Chan, those rooted in Korean Seon remain little known outside of Korea, despite its rich history and unique interesting contents. To overcome this lack of awareness, a recent international seminar took place to attract public attention to the ancient methods of Seon. 

Dongguk University held the 1st International Conference on Ganhwa Seon, the primary Seon method in Korea, on Aug. 12, inviting noted scholars, including Robert Sharf, distinguished professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkeley; James Robson, associate professor at the department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University; Great Master Jinje, member of the Council of Elders, Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism; and Master Hyeguk, spiritual director of Geumbong Seon Center at Sukjong Temple. 

Under the title “Ganhwa Seon, Illuminating the World,” the conference included seminars, speeches and also debates by famous monks, researchers and scholars. Numerous monks and Buddhists gathered at the halls of the event venue, some with pens and memo pads in hand, while others were busy taking photos and reading booklets on Seon. 

With the exception of Robert Buswell, director of the Academy of Buddhist Studies at the university, most of the scholars have mainly studied Buddhism in China and Japan. Korean Buddhists may argue that Korea is the only place that properly practices the Ganhwa Seon Buddhism, but despite its rarity and importance in the Buddhist scene, it is unfamiliar to the rest of the world, including even the Buddhist world. 

“As a living tradition in Korean Buddhism, the technique of Ganhwa Seon is ardently debated among monastic practitioners, with a variety of independent approaches and teaching styles advocated,” Buswell said.

“Ganhwa Seon has been the subject of an ongoing initiative within the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, which has sought to present Ganhwa Seon as a distinctively Korean Buddhist meditative tradition. For these reasons, Ganhwa Seon is an especially promising topic for scholarly examination,” he added. 

Master Hyeguk gave a speech with the title of “The Origin and Practice of Ganhwa Seon.”

“We think we have an independent, substantive self, which is also the limitation of sentient beings. The special characteristics of Ganhwa Seon are that the pathways of language are cut off and mental activity ceases; it is a special transmission outside the scriptures that has no dependence on words and letters. Ganhwa Seon helps us directly see that we are Buddhas,” he said. 
In Buddhism, unloading possessions and earthly desires are of foremost importance, and according to the Buddhist master, this is exactly what everyone should keep in mind in order to realize true happiness. 

“Eternal happiness and true peace cannot be attained by filling in what’s lacking. Only when we keep emptying ourselves until there is not even a single shed of desire will there come eternal happiness and true peace. Ganhwa Seon is not a path for gaining anything, but a path for emptying everything. It is a path to sudden awakening. Sudden enlightenment is the stage where nothing can be removed,” he said. 

Although the speeches may have been a bit long and difficult for those who are not yet acquainted to the religion, the conference marked a meaningful and interesting start, inviting famed scholars and allowing them to interact with one another to discuss ideas, share studies and come up with ways to further push Korean Seon into the international Buddhism scene. 

“Ganhwa Seon is actually not perfectly defined in Korea either. However, such an international event is necessary in exploring and further introducing it to the world,” said Chun Ock-bae, a participant of the seminar and also a researcher at the International Association for Buddhist Thought & Culture.
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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Robert Aitken Roshi, Dizhang Pusa

the essence of truth
and a humbleness
not bound by thought,
a pioneer who cleared
the path for all who followed.
integrity and honor
are the words that come to mind,
many have failed
since he began on this path,
but being the first
his example will be there
for all who will proceed.
there is no way
to measure the results,
there are just the seeds
that have been planted
and have begun to sprout

Thursday, August 5, 2010


The purpose of Buddhism

first attain Enlightenment,

then instruct all creatures.

Transcendental Dependent Arising

The Pratītyasamutpāda is frequently used to explain how disquietude arises depending on codependent conditions, the inference being that if one or more of the conditions are removed (if the “chain” is broken), the disquietude will cease. This theory, which I discussed in my last web log post, is at the core of Mahayana Buddhism, and played a major role in Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamaka theories. Yet, there is a lesser known text in the Pali Cannon that discusses its polar opposite, which is loosely translated at “Transcendental Dependent Arising.” The name of the text is the Upanisa Sutta in the Samyutta Nikaya, in which the discussions of the conditions not for disquietude but for enlightenment are given.

These theories would be considered “dangerous” by the Zen Masters and it is no wonder that they never discussed them. Any set of ideas that can be construed as a formula to enlightenment is really just empty. I include these because they shed some light into a mystery that must be unraveled by each individual. If you attach to this, it will become a hindrance; yet half the Buddhists in the world are following this path. So forgive me, but I couldn’t resist.

1. disquietude (dukkha)
2. faith (saddhā) “disquietude is the supporting condition for faith”
3. joy (pāmojja, pāmujja) “faith is the supporting condition for joy”
4. bliss (pīti) “joy is the supporting condition for bliss”
5. tranquillity (passaddhi) “bliss is the supporting condition for tranquillity”
6. happiness (sukha) “tranquillity is the supporting condition for happiness”
7. concentration (samādhi) “happiness is the supporting condition for concentration”
8. knowledge and vision (yathābhūta-ñāna-dassana) “concentration is the supporting condition for the knowledge and vision of things as they really are”
9. disenchantment (nibbidā) “knowledge and vision of things as they really are is the supporting condition for disenchantment”
10. dispassion (virāga) “disenchantment is the supporting condition for dispassion”
11. emancipation (vimutti) “dispassion is the supporting condition for emancipation”
12. knowledge of destruction (āsava-khaye-ñāna) “emancipation is the supporting condition for the knowledge of destruction”

US military: Mindfulness helps soldiers cope in Iraq

Army Maj. Victor Won and Army Lt. Col. Vincent Barnhart meditate during a 15-minute “mindfulness” session at U.S. Division Center headquarters in Baghdad, Aug. 2, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Daniel Schneider.

The American Forces Press Service reports that US soldiers in Baghdad are being offered mindfulness as a tool for coping with deployment stress, and in the same report quotes one official as saying that mindfulness meditation can “help anyone, no matter where they are.”

From the report:
Mindfulness is a simple but ancient approach to living, which Western medicine has begun to recognize as a powerful tool for dealing with stress, illness and other medical or psychological conditions, and it can help soldiers in any circumstance, said Army Maj. Victor Won, deputy assistant chief of staff for intelligence in 1st Armored Division’s general staff section.
“It would be more effective for soldiers to learn and train mindfulness prior to deployment,” Won said, “since the practice will offer soldiers [a means] to cope with their mental stress before getting into a high-stress environment. However, practicing the meditation on a regular basis will help anyone, no matter where they are.”

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ray Bradbury calls himself a Zen Buddhist

Ray Bradbury lives in a rambling Los Angeles home full of stuffed dinosaurs, a tin robot pushing an ice cream cart, and a life-sized Bullwinkle the Moose doll lounging in a cushioned chair. Bradbury's imagination has yielded classic books such as "Fahrenheit 451," "The Martian Chronicles" and 600 short stories that predicted everything from the emergence of ATMs to live broadcasts of fugitive car chases.

Bradbury, who turns 90 this month, says he will sometimes open one of his books late at night and cry out thanks to God. "I sit there and cry because I haven't done any of this," he told Sam Weller, his biographer and friend. "It's a God-given thing, and I'm so grateful, so, so grateful. The best description of my career as a writer is, 'At play in the fields of the Lord.' "

Bradbury's stories are filled with references to God and faith, but he's rarely talked at length about his religious beliefs, until now. 'Joy is the grace we say to God' He describes himself as a "delicatessen religionist." He's inspired by Eastern and Western religions.

Bradbury has been called a Unitarian, but he rejects that term. He dislikes labels of any kind.

"I'm a Zen Buddhist if I would describe myself," he says. "I don't think about what I do. I do it. That's Buddhism. I jump off the cliff and build my wings on the way down."
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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Clear teaching from someone who didn't seek followers. 

Sexy Sadie is Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Considering the recent bevy of posts regarding Spiritual Teachers and impropriety I came across an interesting bit of info that up until now I was not aware of. "Sexy Sadie" is the name of a song by The Beatles, written by John Lennon in India and credited to Lennon/McCartney. Lennon originally wanted to title the song "Maharishi", but the Beatles changed the title to "Sexy Sadie" at George Harrison's request. Lennon was disillusioned after Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had allegedly made a sexual advance at one of the female members attending the course Maharishi was teaching at his ashram. Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Cynthia Lennon later said that they thought the story, which had come from Alexis Mardas, had been fabricated. Lennon once said of the song: "That was inspired by Maharishi. I wrote it when we had our bags packed and were leaving. It was the last piece I wrote before I left India. I just called him, 'Sexy Sadie,' instead of 'Maharishi what have you done, you made a fool...' I was just using the situation to write a song, rather calculatingly but also to express what I felt. I was leaving the Maharishi with a bad taste. You know, it seems that my partings are always not as nice as I'd like them to be."
After returning from India, Lennon scratched the lyrics into a piece of wood, with the original title "Maharishi". The recorded version changed only after Harrison insisted that if the song was used he wanted the name changed and persuaded Lennon to change the title to "Sexy Sadie". Harrison recounts the event in the directors cut of the anthology film. Derek Taylor remembered Lennon fiddling about scratching the wood in the Apple offices. The wood ended up in the possession of Maureen Starkey and was ultimately sold to a Beatles collector.

Sexy Sadie what have you done
You made a fool of everyone
You made a fool of everyone
Sexy Sadie ooh what have you done.

Sexy Sadie you broke the rules
You layed it down for all to see
You layed it down for all to see
Sexy Sadie oooh you broke the rules.

One sunny day the world was waiting for a lover
She came along to turn on everyone
Sexy Sadie the greatest of them all.

Sexy Sadie how did you know
The world was waiting just for you
The world was waiting just for you
Sexy Sadie oooh how did you know.

Sexy Sadie you'll get yours yet
However big you think you are
However big you think you are
Sexy Sadie oooh you'll get yours yet.

We gave her everything we owned just to sit at her table
Just a smile would lighten everything
Sexy Sadie she's the latest and the greatest of them all.

She made a fool of everyone
Sexy Sadie.

However big you think you are
Sexy Sadie.

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